Expectations can be rough. In my post about searching for my “perfect” anime, I laid out the key elements present in most of the media I enjoy. When I see even one of these components presented especially well in an upcoming show, I become obsessed. This is more or less what drew me to B: The Beginning at the start of 2018 and it has happened again now with Tenrou: Sirius the Jaeger.
But integral the success of any of my favorite shows are qualities that only present themselves when the entire picture shows itself. In this way, Sirius hooked me with its style, concept and the mastery of its action, but when the dust settled there wasn’t much left. Sirius is a lesson in the price of basing the crux of a show’s appeal on just action
It’s not like there wasn’t a reason to be excited though. Director Masahiro Ando’s reputation precedes him and his presence on a project attracts (and likely demands) good battle animators. His film, Sword of the Stranger, gave us one of the best swordfights ever put to animation. On a grander scale, Akagami no Shirayukihime was good enough to be one of my favorites of all time, without even a ton of action.
The concept is simple. In imperial Tokyo, A group of “Jaegers” travels to Japan under the guise of the front company, V Shipping. Their objective is to hunt an order of vampires who are looking for a mystical item known as the Arc of Sirius. Among the Jaegers is a young werewolf from the tribe which the Arc originated, who seeks revenge for the death of his tribe at the hand of the vampires. His name is Yuliy.
In search of their prey, the Jaegers must investigate mysterious killings, face a savage anti-government militia, and stay clear of the prying eye of an inquisitive military officer. The beginning of the series sets up a number of factions converging in an adventure plot with dashings of espionage and political thriller. The problem is that after episode seven, the show begins to lose my interest.
When I first wrote about the series, I mentioned how I was doubtful the story would delve into any complex themes and instead would be more character focused. I wasn’t exactly right. Not only were the themes jumbled and opaque, but the characters were fairly dissatisfying.
Let’s begin with the lead, Yuliy. The first two episodes couldn’t have made him seem cooler. His weapon is this awesome three section staff with retractable blades, making it useful as a bow staff, scythe, or spear. He hunts vampires for revenge, but he’s not all deadpan and edge. He’s got a reckless charm to him and is still a kid at heart. However, his character arc takes a big step backward.
A major part of Yuliy’s story for the first half is his inability to protect both himself and those near to him because of his recklessness. He begins to learn the importance of being part of a pack and prioritizing them over his vendetta. But then he goes solo again to track down the Arc, which by that point suddenly becomes important.
The Ark is the broadest plot device I’ve seen in years. Most of the series either does nothing to explain what it is or is so nebulous as to make it appear completely uninteresting. It is just simply a power for the cast to fight over and it really doesn’t tie into the main thematic draw of the story, which is coexistence.
I was half-right when I supposed the story would not do anything too compelling with its themes. Whereas I thought the show would use themes of brotherhood in tandem with Yuliy’s relation to the characters, it instead used themes of race and coexistence through the story of the Arc.
Much like many things in this show, the concept is good. Yuliy hates vampires because they murdered everyone he ever cared about and trains himself to eradicate them all. He is only given pause when he learns that his own brother isn’t dead and is, in fact, a vampire. This causes him to second guess himself and changes the way he views the world, seeing good and bad in both humans and vampires.
Sadly, apart from Yuliy’s brother Mikhail, we aren’t given many examples of vampires that aren’t at least somewhat reprehensible. Had we been given a different perspective on the vampire race, maybe this would be different. As it is though, the writing really holds back this potentially cool message.
When it was airing, you couldn’t find decent fansubs until an additional week had passed. After the official release, I can safely say the script is mediocre. Grammatical errors aside, there is an annoying tendency for the writer to repeat Yuliy’s newfound philosophy so much as to become insufferable.
Keigo Koyanagi was the series composer and he has worked on a few of Director Ando’s other works. He also wrote the Under the Dog OVA, which, judging by this show’s script, makes me a bit glad we never got the full series. That’s mean, I know, but I feel as though that repetition comes from a writer desperately trying to clarify what is very apparently a confusing story. (Note that MyAnimeList didn’t have a listing for a scriptwriter, which is troubling by itself)
When I say confusing, I mean that even if you think you have a good grasp on what happened, there is still that question of “why?” “Why are these character doing this?” and “why should I care?”
The moment I knew I was starting to lose faith in the show came late into the show, in episode 9. Seemingly out of nowhere it was established that vampires were being slowly killed off by disease. Now to its credit, there may have been some leading dialogue as to this revelation, but it was minute, to say the least.
What is less defensible is the next episode when during a big fight, another villain who is basically “the crazy one” legit just rants to the main character, revealing crucial plot information. It’s like the writer was struggling to find a way to inform the lead of this info and just decided, “fuck it.”
Sirius feels like two different shows wrapped into one, and neither are functional on their own. I know I’ve criticized the second half, but that’s not to say the first half is perfect. There was a cool subplot revolving around vampires creating undead soldiers, but there were lots of stuff I couldn’t give two shits about. Same goes for all the backstory given about Yuliy’s family.
Side note: The name of Yuliy’s home village is called Dogville… really? That’s the best they could come up with? Can’t wait for season two when they have the battle in Cattown or the peace summit in Bird City.
Politics mixed into intense action films are always a risk, but let me paint a picture of what I’m looking for at the base level. In Sicario, the American film series about a war against the Mexican drug cartels, this type of narrative is done beautifully.
Right from the beginning, we understand the stakes and motives of parties on both sides of the conflict. Cartels are smuggling terrorists, leading to an attack in the opening scene. The US wants a team to discretely start a war between cartels to stop them. From here on, the audience is invested in that politics because we both understand who these people are and the gravity of their positions and actions.
Sirius doesn’t exactly explain who these groups are all that well. Major Iba is a military agent who works under the guise of a reporter. The Hyakko party want Japan to return to its feudal roots and is willing to kill to make that happen. The problem is that they don’t explain or give context to who they are until later, making all of their scenes very hard to be interested in.
Many of the issues with Sirius could be resolved if the show was longer, or if the first half was extended to be the whole first season (or the whole show even). A story about Vampires attempting to gain control over Tokyo or something to that effect may have been able to make greater use of the setting. And if they really wanted to push the whole, treasure hunt adventure plot, they could have at least put greater emphasis on the characters.
See, in Sword of the Stranger, they were able to mix fantastical elements diagetically because those supernatural components weren’t the point of the story. The point was the ronin Nanashi coming to term with his past and redeeming himself through his relationship to the young boy he protected. It was a story about its characters, and the rest was aesthetic.
Instead of that, themes of brotherhood are thrown out when Yuliy splits off from the rest of the Jaegers, only to reunite with them briefly at the very end. The show even ditches the cool imperial Tokyo setting for a drab and boring depiction of Sakhalin. This even ruins a good chance for world-building.
It’s implied the characters will return to London where the Jaegers are based. Consider this a smaller nitpick, but this would have been a golden opportunity to expand on the world of the show. Really we never see the larger Jaeger organization and the few glimpses of the vampire order are fleeting. As one who loves getting lost in a show’s world-building, I wanted more, though I understand that wasn’t as much of a priority.
What should have been a priority is the other members of the Jaegers. In his bio on the show’s official site, it was said that Phillip had tension with Yuliy over the latter being a Sirius, since someone from Yuliy’s clan apparently killed his parents. For one thing, the Werewolf powers are so underutilized. Shouldn’t there be more werewolves out there?
Secondly, this tension is introduced early on but the resolution just comes out of nowhere in episode six. You’d think that if the show was gonna push the coexistence theme, they would delve deeper into Phillip’s opinion of Sirius’ versus his partnership with Yuliy. The rest of the Jaegers don’t fare much better.
Dorothea and Fallon are just there to look cool. Yuliy and Willard are the only two that seem skilled in close combat, while the others just use guns, even though Fallon is built like a tank. My policy for shows with characters on a team is that you have to spend the time to justify their existence, otherwise it is a major strike against the show.
Only Professor Willard leaves an impact apart from Yulity in the main crew. His past with Yuliy combined with some particular action scenes make him one of my favorites in the show. The story between him and Yuliy is the closest to a functional, emotional arc in the series and I wasn’t disappointed.
The biggest disappointment however is Ryouko Naoe. She is introduced as a young woman with a crush on Yuliy, who also practices swordsmanship and clearly goes against the grain compared to other girls. At first, she comes off as a random love interest with no chemistry with Yuliy, which is mostly true, but it is the small spark of something more that makes her arc infuriating.
There is an implication that she will discard her current life and become someone like Yuliy and in my notes, I mentioned how I was excited to see her kick some ass next season as a Jaeger. Well sorry to spoil a character with little to no impact, but she does fuck all and ends up abandoning any progression that would make her interesting. What a waste.
Now if you’ve been reading through this and thinking “wow, Sakura hates this show!” here’s some actual praise for once. Sirius was produced by P.A. Works but almost seems like a Bones, at least at first. The fight animation episode by episode was awesome and it was elevated by the impeccable sound design. Every stab, slash, and gunshot was visceral and awesome.
A special shoutout goes to the man behind pretty much every notable cut in this series, Masahiro Sato. Judging by his Sakugabooru page, he has worked on Noragami, Stand Alone Complex, Naruto, and even Legend of Korra. He has history working with Ando on his other works like Canaan and Under the Dog. Sato has produced a staggering 20 cuts for this series, which is both impressing and troubling.
I sincerely hope he was not overworked, as I noticed a decline in quality over time. There were even reused cuts in later fights, though thankfully that was scarce. However, that decline could be due to the show’s overall decline in artwork quality, both in setting and character art.
The designs by Souichirou Sako are striking and cool (Kinu Nishimura is credited with character design as well), but occasionally the art does little to make them look flattering. Some of the protagonists, in particular, looked a bit crude in design.
Finally, the music is done by Masaru Yokoyama, who has worked on Fate/Apocrypha and Arakawa Under the Bridge to name a few. While I can’t speak to the latter, the former was undeniably my favorite part of Apocrypha. Here, there is an anachronistic mix or string-heavy orchestral pieces and techno that shouldn’t work, and to some, will not, but for me was quite satisfying.
As for the OP and ED, the former has cool visuals but a fairly generic rock song by the Akeboshi Rockets. The ED, however, is an addicting track by Sajou no Hana, with great visual accompanyment.
I should mention a few things about how Netflix released it. Firstly, the wait for the release was insultingly long. At least Violet Evergarden was released in full right as it was finished, but waiting all the way until December 21st for a show that ended in September? Come on.
Also there are these just… baffling art cards placed randomly at the beginnings of episodes and there will be a few seconds after the opening or mid episode stingers where the first frame will just be stuck on screen for a few seconds. I have no idea what they were thinking when they put these in. They weren’t a hindrance but they were annoying.
Sirius the Jaeger- at first glance- is everything I could want from an action show. Secret societies, cool aesthetics, and masterful fights. It even has a final fight on an airship for fuck’s sake. However, it lacks the consistency and storytelling to make it memorable beyond appreciation for its sakuga.
And that’s a big reason to watch this show. This series is a big billboard ad for Masahiro Sato’s work. I hope he will be given more opportunities to shine as long as he won’t be overworked. If you are a Sakuga fan, look at this show as a study in Sato’s work and perhaps the limitations of animation.
For more casual viewers, I warn that Sirius may disappoint you. This is the type of show where the three-episode test doesn’t work, as the problems only really mount towards the end. If you start it and are having fun, though, who am I to stop you. “It’s about the journey, not the destination,” people say, and looking back on it, it’s a pretty damn cool journey.
Sirius the Jaeger is available for legal streaming from Netflix
*Phew* That was a long time coming. Managed to watch it all in one day when it got released before my vacation and I’m (mostly) right on schedule this week. Leave a comment below telling me what you think of Sirius the Jaeger and let me know what shows you are hyped for in 2019.
Speaking of which…
HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!
I want to thank everyone for reading. These last couple months have been my best months for views and I’m so thankful to have you all supporting me. Big things on the horizon for this blog so keep it locked here for biweekly Anime reviews and analysis. As always, see you next time.